How data can inspire creativity, I was out to dinner with my wife and a few old friends from my student days at UCLA’s film school—successful writers and directors for film and television, some of the most creative people I know. I was telling them how excited I was to have gotten a ticket to the Eyeo Festival, an annual event about creative coding and the creative potential of data that always sells out in minutes.

My friends were perplexed: how could I (and all these other people hungry for Eyeo tickets) possibly be so excited about data?

Too often, data is viewed skeptically by artists and designers. Putting aside the many culprits for this—the segregation of art education from science and math, to name one—this skepticism is marked by what seems like perfectly reasonable logic: since creativity is fundamentally unknowable, and data is all about knowability, data must be a countervailing force to creativity.

They’re completely right about the ineffable nature of the creative spark; it’s impossible to explain exactly how you go from being full of doubt and confusion one moment to flush with inspiration the next. In my favorite explication of creativity, John Cleese stated,

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“it is futile for me to talk about creativity [because] it simply cannot be explained; it’s like Mozart’s music or Van Gogh’s painting.”

The key to understanding data’s role in inspiring creativity is to avoid looking at it as a means to engineer insight—instead look at data as a means to create boundaries within which to play.

  • Don’t Mistake Data for Information
  • Make Data Analysis a Creative Activity Through Visualization
  • Use Insights from Data to Rewrite the Brief
  • Use Data to Create Variations

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